Is Carbon Offsetting a sustainable solution to battle climate change?
Carbon Footprint, Carbon Offsetting, Carbon Neutral and Net Zero Explained
Let’s take a deep dive into, you guessed it, Carbon! Last week we clearly found ourselves in a technical part of the Sustainability Jargon Buster. Today we will go a bit easier on you. And soon we will get back to sustainable business models, strategies and frameworks. Because that is where our heart truly lies. But first things first. We can’t tackle the crisis without understanding what we are talking about.
And we all know; change starts at the end of the comfort zone! And that is why we are happy to go all nitty-gritty & technical for you. We will do everything in our power to help you accelerate the Sustainable Transition.
Let’s start with The Carbon Footprint. A frequently used term that is hard to miss. But what does it actually mean?
A Carbon Footprint is a measurement of the amount of Carbon dioxide produced by the activities of a person, company, organisation or other entity or activity.
Your carbon footprint is the amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) (check out our previous jargon buster to double-check what C02 exactly is) released into the atmosphere as the result of your actions, choices and consumption pattern. You can lower your carbon footprint by consuming less and sustainable, choosing public electrical transport over a hummer and eat vegetables instead of rabbits.
There are a lot of tools and Carbon calculators available for both individuals and organisations who can help you to figure out your Footprint. Carbon Footprint measuring, especially for individuals, isn’t an exact science yet. And the size of your footprint can vary depending on the metrics, questions and variables of the calculator.
To get started you need to become your own personal C02 Detective and gather some insights in;
- How often and how far do you travel by (electrical) car, bus, train, plane or bicycle.
- What kind of energy plan are you on?
- Are you a shopper? And if so, what kind of shopper are you?
- Do you reuse, refurbish, recycle?
- What do you eat?
The calculators are perfectly suitable for giving you an initial idea of the size of your footprint. Get a better understanding of the size of your footprint with the World Wildlife Fund Calculator. Once you know the size, you can find ways to shrink your footprint. We at The Green Sprint calculate our individual footprints at least once a year. And at the beginning of the year, we set ourselves a climate goal. The 2020 Footprint of Minou was 2.9 Ton C02e (give or take, like mentioned before, the result can vary depending on which calculator you use).
C02e, we haven’t busted that one yet! Carbon Terms are like mushrooms, they just keep popping up.
“Carbon dioxide equivalent” or “CO2e” is a term for describing different greenhouse gases in a common unit. For any quantity and type of greenhouse gas, CO2e signifies the amount of CO2 which would have the equivalent global warming impact.
In our last post, we explored the different type of Greenhouse gases and how they contribute to global warming. Not all greenhouse gases contribute equally to global warming. C02e is a way to describe the different types of Greenhouse gases in a common unit, which has the same impact on global warming.
Okay, now we got that covered, let's get back to Minou’s Footprint. She measured her footprint with the calculator from Climate Hero. And she set a climate goal for 2021, to lower her footprint to below 2ton C02e. She set herself the following goals;
- Continuing to eat vegetarian, only buy necessities when borrowing or renting is not an option, primarily buy secondhand clothes, don’t own a car, move around and travel by foot, bicycle or public transport.
- Switch all banking to Green Banking Services and invest only in sustainable funds and companies.
- Continue to speak up, discuss, rethink and question our current unsustainable & destructive systems.
For individuals it’s quite easy to calculate their footprint and set goals, it gets a bit more complex once you start to look into the footprint of organisations, but in this time and age, it is an absolute must.
Luckily there are many online calculators available for small-medium enterprises. Check out the calculator from Carbon Trust to figure out the footprint of your organisation.
Net Zero / Carbon Neutral
Globally we will reach Net Zero once the level of Greenhouse Gases that we emit into the atmosphere is balanced with the amount of gases that are captured.
Whilst Net Zero is a frequently used term there is no commonly agreed definition. Since 2019 we do have a working definition by the Science-Based Targets Institute, the SBTi describes Net Zero for companies as
“achieving a state in which the activities within the value chain of a company result in no net impact on the climate from greenhouse gas emissions. This is achieved by reducing value chain greenhouse gas emissions, in line with 1.5°C pathways, and by balancing the impact of any remaining greenhouse gas emissions with an appropriate amount of carbon removals”
Organizations refer to Net Zero when the activities of their organisation do not result in any additional gases in the atmosphere. This doesn’t mean that they do not release any gases. They can either be Carbon Free, meaning that they are not emitting any gases in the first place or Neutral which means that the organisation produces gases with one activity but captures the equivalent amount with another, resulting in a Neutral or Net Zero Balance.
Carbon Negative, Carbon Positive & Climate Positive
As confusing as it is, carbon negative, carbon positive and climate positive all mean the same;
The reduction of an entity’s carbon footprint to less than neutral, so that the entity has a net effect of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere rather than adding it.
To avoid any mix-ups we only use the term Carbon Negative as this most accurately describes what is actually meant.
You probably have seen the headlines “Microsoft pledges to be ‘carbon negative’ by 2030” and “How Ikea plans to be climate positive by 2030”. But what does this exactly mean? You can speak of Carbon Negative or Climate Positive when an entity’s carbon footprint is less than neutral. Meaning that they capture more gases from the atmosphere than they release into it.
Offsetting is an action or activity, such as planting trees or carbon capturing, that compensates for the emission of C02 into the atmosphere by an individual, organisation or one extremely extravagant rabbit. The most common example is, offsetting the CO2 emissions of a flight by financing the capture of an equivalent amount of carbon by planting trees.
Offsetting is often a discussion point among environmentalists, as it is not a sustainable or infinity scalable solution. It should not be confused as a simple solution to climate change. Investing in C02 offset initiatives to “pay off” destructive and polluting activities over longer periods of time is unsustainable.
Nevertheless, it is a good way to temporarily bridge the gap. Imagine a company aims to lower its emission levels to 0 through a process of sustainable redesigning and innovating. This process will take an extensive amount of time, during which Offsetting can serve as a temporary solution. Individuals & Organisations will always leave a Footprint, although with some effort you can make it a really tiny one. Wipeout this tiny footprint by offsetting the emissions of your employees or of you as an individual. We at The Green Sprint are offsetting our emissions by investing in reforestation programs via the organisation Ecologi.
Each of the terms described in this buster is stages in the sustainability journey of your organization or as we like to say they are all steps on the sustainability ladder. You might wonder, on which one should my organisation focus its efforts? The answer to this question varies. First, you have to calculate your company’s footprint, mark your starting point, set your short, medium and long term priorities and set out your roadmap to becoming a Carbon Negative organisation. And don’t forget to offset your carbon emissions during your journey.
Minou & Pamela